Civil rights, community, movement

January 13, 2005 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

civil rights [n.] The rights belonging to an individual by virtue of citizenship, esp. the right to due process, equal protection of the law, and freedom from discrimination.

community [n.] A group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.

movement [n.] An organized effort to promote or attain an end; the act of moving.

The histories of America's civil rights movements – and their successes in securing equal protection of the law for those denied it – have always been shaped by the complex interweaving of legal victories, political progress and advances in public opinion.

So when we look at the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights today, we have every reason to be optimistic. Our movement is strong, it is determined, and it is gathering momentum every day.

It has been only 18 months since the Supreme Court struck down the last remaining state laws that branded us as criminals, little more than a year since Massachusetts' top court ruled that same-sex couples could not be denied full equality in marriage, and mere weeks since California enacted the nation's most expansive domestic partnership law.

All the while, public support for LGBT equality continues to grow. Gallup has reported that 89% of Americans support equal employment opportunity for gays and lesbians. Polls also show nearly two-thirds support the same opportunities for transgender Americans. Nearly four in five – up from 57% just a decade ago – support openly gay military service members; and amid the enactment of anti-gay constitutional amendments in 11 states this past November, exit polls showed that 60% of voters favor legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The speed with which our movement is advancing on all fronts is absolutely historic – and it hasn't happened by chance or by accident.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community crosses all borders. We are born into families as diverse as our nation. We are of every race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, class, educational background, ability and party affiliation. We live in cities, towns and neighborhoods across this country, in red states and in blue. We, literally, are everywhere.

Yet because that rich diversity often goes unseen, ignored or forgotten, we remain vulnerable to inaccurate stereotypes manufactured by a small but powerful group of anti-gay extremists. Wrapping themselves in cloaks of "family" and "values," these groups are spending tens of millions of dollars to confuse, distort and subvert the public debate that continues to change hearts and minds about our right to equality as it opens America's eyes to the true family values that LGBT couples, parents and families are living and demonstrating every day.

This public debate serves another purpose as well: it reveals the unjust realities our community faces. If we must take time to care for an ill partner, we can lose our jobs because we are denied the protections of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Surviving gay and lesbian partners can find their families imperiled by laws that deny inheritance, child custody rights, and Social Security survivors' protection. Binational LGBT couples and families can be cruelly torn apart by deportation and immigration laws that treat them as legal strangers.

The manifest unfairness of these and countless other discriminations is one reason why support for LGBT equality continues to rise. It's also why we must commit to creating of our diverse community a truly inclusive movement – one that is represented by and pursues justice for the diverse lives that give it substance.

The groups represented here are parts of a large civil rights orchestra. We play different instruments – lobbying, electoral politics, impact litigation, grassroots organizing, public education, media advocacy and more – and we are dedicated to playing them well. While our organizations vary in focus and strategies, we share a number of common priorities that will help shape and unite our work in the months and years to come. Among them:

In December, People asked President and Mrs. Bush about civil unions. "Is a couple joined by that kind of legal arrangement as much of a family as, say, you two are a family?" "Of course," President Bush replied.

Bush's acknowledgement (despite his support for an anti-gay constitutional amendment) has set an important new minimum standard for future dialogue surrounding same-sex couples and families, one that reflects an evolving public respect for our relationships that even those who seek to codify discrimination against us cannot easily ignore.

This revolution in understanding and respect has been made possible by millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans who are coming out, being out, and living the truth of their lives for others to see. By families unafraid to publicly declare their love for and commitment to one another. By people unwilling, by word or deed, to tell future generations that our relationships are deserving of anything less than acceptance, respect and celebration. And by an orchestra of organizations committed to the strategic advancement of our movement.

But at the end of the day, our movement must be more than a collective noun. It must also be an action. Even the most vibrant, vital community can, over time, settle into a status quo. A movement cannot. And the success of our movement is measured not only in the hearts and minds we change, the allies we engage and the civil rights we secure, but in the strength of our collective commitment to the pursuit of enduring social, political and legal change that moves us ever closer to true equality. Each of us. Each of you.

Get involved. Learn more about the work of our movement's local, state and national organizations. Invest in that work. Encourage your straight friends and family to do likewise; give them the opportunity to invest in our future – and theirs. Champion equality and respect in your community. Engage new allies at home, in your workplace, in your place of worship, at your school. Stand up. Spread the word. Share your story.

By virtue of who we are, we're a community. But it is by virtue of the decisions we make that we become part of a movement – a civil rights movement working together to create a better, more hopeful world limited only by our ability to envision its promise and experience all that it has to offer.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Lesbian & Gay Rights Project
Equality Federation
Freedom to Marry
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Leadership Institute (Victory)
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Lambda Legal
Log Cabin Republicans
Mautner Project
National Association of LGBT Community Centers
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC)
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN)
Sigamos Adelante: National Latino/Hispanic LGBT Leadership
Stonewall Democrats